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Father and Son Carry Out Emergency Response: It's In Their Blood

photograph of Harry Allen III and Harry Allen IV

Harry Allen III and Harry Allen IV

Ever wonder how a career is chosen, how one person becomes a doctor and another a teacher? Harry Allen III and Harry Allen IV are a father and son who both chose careers with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund program that allow them to work on the front lines of protecting human health and the environment. This story is about two generations that have accepted the challenge to make our planet a cleaner, safer place to live.

When an environmental disaster occurs, EPA's Environmental Response Team (ERT) responds to the scene with the specialized equipment and expertise needed to assess the situation and diffuse the environmental and human health threats. The ERT responds to environmental emergencies ranging from a fish kill in a local stream, to a chemical fire affecting an entire county, to a national catastrophe, such as the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. The ERT works with federal, local, and state agencies, and sometimes foreign governments, to respond quickly and safely to these emergencies, preventing further harm to the environment and nearby communities. Responding to emergencies to protect nearby communities and the environment is an important, challenging career made even more significant since the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

The senior Harry Allen, "Harry III," has worked at EPA since 1971. For the past 23 years he has been part of EPA's ERT in Edison, New Jersey. Harry III specializes in the cleanup of oil spills and hazardous waste and the treatment of contaminated soil using microscopic organisms-a technology called "bioremediation." He also assesses the dangers associated with hazardous waste sites and develops criteria for their proper cleanup. Harry III has traveled extensively on behalf of EPA to team up with foreign environmental ministries, the World Health Organization, multinational industries, the World Environmental Center, and a number of U.S. agencies to respond to environmental crises. He analyzes and observes environmental problems first-hand, helping to develop appropriate cleanup solutions. Harry III has responded to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska , the Winchester Tire Fire in Virginia (where seven million tires burned), and the release of lead from the explosion of a rail car in Livingston, Louisiana. In addition, he developed treatment alternatives for PCB contamination of dump sites in Indiana and assisted in a number of international cleanups, including a dioxin site in Mexico, the toxic gas leak from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, and a cyanide spill in Latvia. Harry III also lectures at conferences, schools, and other organizations on environmental topics.

Photograph of Exxon Valdez cleanup

Exxon Valdez cleanup

Following in his father's footsteps, "Harry IV" has also chosen to become an environmental professional. Harry IV developed an early interest in emergency response work during his father's visits to his school on career day. He remembers lively dinner conversations about cleanup projects and the days his father brought home work materials to explain such routine field activities as sampling groundwater. Harry IV and his father would conduct experiments at home and would give demonstrations at schools on the use of field sampling equipment and radon gas detection techniques for the home. The father and son team often traveled together to locations where his father was involved in site cleanups.

Harry IV followed his father to Rutgers University, where he earned a degree in the same Environmental Science department where Harry III earned his doctorate. Even during summers after his college terms, he accompanied his father on trips to hazardous waste sites to work on bioremediation projects. The father and son team were inseparable, both in the field and off. "I'm very lucky to have him and my Mom as my closest friends," said Harry Allen IV. In 1998, Harry IV began his professional career, also in the field of emergency response, as an environmental contractor. He is now an On-Scene Coordinator at EPA's Region 9 office in San Francisco, where he manages time-critical cleanups. He travels extensively to assist first responders with cleaning up contaminated sites.

Harry IV has great admiration and respect for his father's work and is currently working with him to use bioremediation to clean up soils contaminated with pesticides on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona. Harry Allen IV often calls on his father for assistance with tough cleanup decisions, taking advantage of his years of experience in emergency response. "It's really great for me to be able to work with my Dad after all this time," said Harry Allen IV. "When I have an issue, which happens frequently, I can call him up and talk to him about it. He always has the answer." The younger Harry clearly has faith in his father's experience and knowledge, referring to his dad's sound advice as a "slam dunk." Harry Allen III takes pleasure in helping out his son when he has a problem, and recognizes the uniqueness of their family-work relationship. "It's interesting to have your son as a client," he noted.

This dynamic duo, each working on different coasts, represents a family dedicated to environmental cleanup. There is a continuing need for environmental specialists at EPA's offices across the country. Such careers in environmental service offer a promising future for the nation and its workforce. According to Environmental Business International, Inc. (EBI), nearly one and a half million people are employed in jobs representing more than a dozen environmental industry segments. EBI also estimates that another one-half million environmental workers are employed in the public sector, working for local, state, and federal environmental agencies, such as U.S. EPA. In fact, there are more than 17,000 environmental professionals working at U.S. EPA, over 4,300 of whom (roughly 25 percent) are in either a life sciences, medical sciences, engineering, or physical sciences occupation. Thanks to the tireless efforts these dedicated environmental professionals, the health of our nation's environment, and the safety of our communities, will be protected for generations to come.


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